It’s great to know there is an alternative natural sweetener available that is sweeter than table sugar, and has virtually no calories. Does that seem too good to be true? In a sense yes, but it is a fact. This natural sweetener is called “Stevia,” which is an all-natural herbal product with origins in parts of South America. The main cultivation is in Paraguay, Brazil, Japan and China with other growers spread out across the Pacific Rim.

Stevia Rebaudiana is a perennial shrub that grows up to 1 m tall and has leaves 2-3 cm long and is a member to the Aster family. The leaves contain glycosides and stevioside, which is responsible for the incredible sweetness of this herb. For centuries the Guarani Indians in South America had used the leaves of the plant to sweeten their tea concoctions or to add sweetness to some of their foods.

The crude stevia leaves and green herbal powder are reported to be 10-15 times sweeter than table sugar. The refined extract of the stevioside is claimed to be 100 to 300 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar. Now that is sweet!  If you do use the extract, we suggest that you dilute the extract with water so you won’t overpower your food or beverage.

Stevia can be purchased and used in a variety of forms – leaf, liquid, or powdered extract. Also the fresh leaves can be added to any hot liquid to add sweetness. We carry the pure herbal green form of stevia that has been ground into a fine powder and ready to use.  But you have to watch out for all the processed stevia that is sold in the marketplace – best to use the real deal.

Although there are many ways to use stevia, start out by adding it to hot or cold beverages, or in smoothies. Also, it does impart a slight after taste that takes getting used to, but not for long. For me, stevia has to be one of the best healthy alternatives to beat the sugar guilt – so consider it a friend with healthy benefits and enjoy the guiltless pleasure of sweetness.

Stevia is available at Whole Spice.